FRONT PAGE / POSTS
by Joshua Glenn| Boston, USA
Wednesday, 20 October 2010
tags: americas, consumer culture, culture, making sense
"I feel great… body and soul!" testifies Kellogg's All-Bran eater and correspondent Michele H, in the advertisement below, found in the US magazine Real Simple. "I've been surprised by how energetic I feel," another All-Bran fan comments. The latter review won't surprise anyone. In the US, as everyone already knows, breakfast is fuel for hard-working cyborgs. However, Michele H.'s review might strike non-Americans as bizarre.
How did breakfast cereal become soul food, in the United States?
For the solution to this riddle, we take you back to the late nineteenth century, when John Harvey Kellogg ran the Battle Creek Sanitarium, which was owned and operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Dr. Kellogg was concerned above all with reducing sexual stimulation — which is why, at a time when his wealthy patients were accustomed to eating eggs and meat for breakfast, he fed them instead a form of dry cereal that he'd invented: corn flakes. Do corn flakes lower libido? It's doubtful: Kellogg also performed circumcisions on adult male patients, because he believed that this would help prevent masturbation.
In 1895, one of Kellogg's former patients, C.W. Post, founded a cereal company selling Post's invention, Grape Nuts. In 1908, Post started selling a rival brand of corn flakes which he named Elijah's Manna. Post was not nearly as devout a Christian as Kellogg, as far as I know, but of course manna is the food that God provides for the Israelites in the Book of Exodus. (When raw, it tasted like wafers made with honey. Some scholars suggest that manna might have been the crystallized honeydew of certain scale insects, still considered a delicacy.) Elijah's Manna was later renamed Post Toasties.
Takeaway: In America's collective unconscious, breakfast cereal connotes religiously inspired self-mortification. Unlike bacon and eggs, dry cereal is go(o)d for you.
For more examples of spiritualized breakfast cereal advertising, see a longer version of this post at HiLobrow.com.